Bluegrass on the Outer Banks

Banjo IslandAh, the joys of summer… and summer vacation!

Those of us who live within an easy drive of the coast are wont to spend time at the beach when a break is in the offing. In just this way, I find myself enjoying the charms of North Carolina’s barrier islands this week, known locally as the Outer Banks – or OBX for folks who favor the shortened form.

It seems that no matter where you go, you find bluegrass music, and we discovered that it is alive and well here on the island shores. Small concerts and club dates are scheduled from time to time, and this October the first annual Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival is scheduled. The promoters are betting that beachgoers will come back in the off season when rates are low to enjoy a 3 day music festival in Manteo.

Yesterday evening, looking for a break amidst avoiding being baked by the sun and doing as little as possible otherwise, I took a break with Woody Edwards of Bluegrass Today’s ad department to visit Red Drum Pottery in the tiny village of Frisco.

The northernmost islands here are heavily populated, with a few thousand hardy year-round residents living during the vacation season with a hundredfold increase in short term visitors. But as you move further south along the Outer Banks, there are more and more pelicans to go with fewer and fewer people. Up north you have Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, beach towns with all the amenities a summer tourist might need. But as you approach Hatteras and Ocracoke islands to the south, the living is a bit more spartan, and the residents sparser.

Here in Frisco, Rhonda Bates and Wes Lassiter have their pottery studio. Rhonda designs and Wes fires, and together they offer their wares to summer travelers in the front of the studio. In the back room, they host a weekly bluegrass show and jam session, where Wes and Rhonda perform along with Stanley Lawrence as, and at, Banjo Island. After each Wednesday night show, everyone is invited to jam along in the cozy music space. Last night, a couple of pickers from New Jersey joined in the fun, explaining that they had brought their “vacation instruments” instead of the real things.

In the audience was a mix of new fans and bluegrass veterans. Some were locals, but most of them vacationers looking to tickle their bluegrass bone at the beach. A good time was had by all, especially Woody as Wes had arranged for a lovely young lady to feed him grapes upon our arrival.

If you are among the many folks who enjoy the Outer Banks, in or out of season, know that you can find a taste of Big Mon at the beach.


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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.